Colorado’s Alcohol and Marijuana Open Container Laws and Penalties

Colorado’s open container laws prohibit knowing consumption or possession of an open container of alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle.

In Colorado, it's unlawful to knowingly consume or possess an open container of alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle that's on a public road or right-of-way. While the open container laws for alcohol and marijuana are very similar, a significant distinction exists—a conviction for possessing an open container of marijuana requires evidence of marijuana consumption, and the same is not true for alcohol.

This article provides an overview of the open container laws' prohibitions, exceptions, and differences.

Colorado's Open Alcohol Container Law

The open alcohol container law prohibits both drivers and passengers from knowingly consuming alcohol or knowingly possessing an open container of an "alcoholic beverage" in the passenger areas of a motor vehicle.

How Does Colorado Law Define "Alcoholic Beverage"?

For purposes of Colorado's open container law, alcoholic beverages include:

  • distilled spirits (such as whiskey, rum, or brandy)
  • wine (not less than one-half of 1% of alcohol by volume), and
  • beer and other fermented beverages (such as sake).

Basically, this definition includes all alcoholic products that are made for drinking.

What Counts as a "Motor Vehicle" for Purposes of Colorado's Open Container Law?

The open container law applies to all motor vehicles designed primarily for travel on public roads, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion. So, drinking in a vehicle parked on a public street violates the statute.

What Counts as an "Open Container" of Alcohol Under Colorado Law?

For the purpose of the statute, a container is considered "open" if:

  • it has been actually opened or has a broken seal, or
  • its contents have been partially removed (even if resealed).

Under this definition, it's basically just containers in store-bought, unopened condition that can be transported in a vehicle.

Which Areas of a Vehicle Are Subject to Colorado's Open Container Law?

Any person in the "passenger area" of the vehicle is prohibited from knowingly consuming or possessing an open container of alcohol. The passenger area is defined as seating areas and any area readily accessible from these areas, including the glove compartment.

The passenger areas don't include the trunk or the area behind the last seat for vehicles not equipped with a trunk.

Colorado's Open Marijuana Container Law

For the most part, the definitions and prohibitions found in the open alcohol container law also apply to open marijuana containers. One exception is with the definition of "open container." A violation for possession of an open marijuana container occurs only if:

  • the marijuana container is open or has a broken seal
  • the container's contents are partially removed, and
  • evidence exists that marijuana was consumed in the vehicle.

Again, this last requirement is where the marijuana law differs from the alcohol open container law. For an alcohol open container violation, there doesn't need to be evidence of consumption.

Vehicles That Are Exempt From Colorado's Open Container Laws

Certain passenger vehicles for hire—such as taxis and limousines—and motorhomes are exempt from the open container laws. Passengers in these vehicles, other than the driver and front seat passenger, may consume and possess alcohol or marijuana.

Penalties for Colorado Open Container Violations

The penalties for an open container violation depend on the age of the offender.

Open Container Violations Committed by Those Who Are at Least 21 Years Old

Violations of the open container laws are class A traffic infractions. Both offenses result in a $50 fine and a surcharge ($16 for open alcohol container tickets; $7.80 for open marijuana container tickets). More serious criminal penalties apply if the driver is under the influence at the time of the violation.

Open Container Violations Committed by Underage Offenders

An underage offender—a person under age 21—who violates either law is guilty of an unclassified petty offense. A petty offense is a criminal matter. A first offense is punishable by a maximum $100 fine and $25 surcharge. A court can also order the offender to complete a substance abuse education program.

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